Individual and Collective Memory Consolidation

Analogous Processes on Different Levels

My first large-scale project in this area involved exploring the analogy between memory formation on the individual and collective levels. This was a multidisciplinary project that I carried out with graduate students in history, psychology, and anthropology.

We amassed a great deal of evidence form the literature to support our hypothesis that, on both the individual and collective levels, memory formation occurs through a process that begins with a collection of memory items held on a short-term basis, proceeds with the establishment of a system of relationships among those items, and ends with the consolidation of that system of relationships into an efficient long-term form. We argued that the whole process is subject to the influence of the remembering entity, whether person or society, which can manipulate the memory formation process.

We also argued that the establishment of a system of relationships is central to memory formation, and we found evidence that disrupting it in a society produces collective amnesia for events that are in the process of consolidating but not for already consolidated memories, resulting in a pattern of memory loss that is analogous to what is observed in individual persons who sustain damage to specific brain structures. The monograph describing our findings, with the cover shown on the right, is now available from MIT Press.

View the book page at MIT Press

Book cover for Individual and Collective Memory Consolidation, featuring a charcoal drawing.